Fill in the Gap
As in yoga, Pilates necessitates concentration, precision, correct alignment, and breath. My class was not an aerobic workout, but I found myself sweating, muscles twitching from the work, and my brain fully engaged. The effort is in doing the movements correctly and not just banging them out haphazardly. Fry commented that many of her clients who have a yoga background have good body awareness, and she thinks this helps them get maximum benefit from Pilates work.
German-born fitness buff Joseph Pilates first came up with the precursors to this equipment while in a World War I internment camp. There he rigged hospital beds with levers, straps, pulleys, and springs, so that the infirm could exercise. The equipment was designed for resistance training without overstretching, and focused on alignment and strengthening the core muscles—abdominals, buttocks, and lower back. Pilates called them the "Powerhouse."
"Pilates is a resistance workout," explains Siri Dharma Galliano, who runs Live Art, Inc., a Pilates and yoga center in Beverly Hills, California. "Yet it's very mind-body integrative and aesthetically satisfying. The rhythm of the work soothes your nervous system in a way that's similar to yoga. It's a consistent, rhythmic, dancelike flow that the body relaxes into."
"There's no question that Mr. Pilates studied yoga and borrowed a lot of the positions," says Jillian Hessel, director of The Well-Tempered Workout, a fitness studio in West Hollywood. "There's an exercise that we call 'up-stretch' that begins in Downward-Facing Dog, but it's done moving on a piece of equipment called the Universal Reformer, a sliding apparatus that works on spring action." Another strong connection between the two practices, says Hessel, is "the relationship between breath and movement. In Pilates, you become more conscious and aware of moving oxygen in and out of the body, synchronizing the rhythms of breath and movement, and really focusing on the Powerhouse."
The fluidity of Pilates has attracted members of the dance community like Fry and Hessel since 1926, when Joseph Pilates and his wife first opened their New York studio. Today, many yoga students are using the Pilates method to enhance their practice and understand how movement is rooted in the lower chakras at the core of the body. Pilates' focused flow may be especially appealing to lovers of vinyasa, but all yoga practitioners can benefit from its attention to core strength, breath, and inner balance.
Most of us have a few asanas we quickly skate through, just trying to hold them with the least possible discomfort. The basic actions of these poses are so abstruse to us that we just can't seem to get fully engaged, or achieve enough comfort so we can go deeper.
According to the Feldenkrais Method, our problem may be that we're up against a deep neurological pattern—perhaps an unconscious freezing up around an old injury, perhaps simply habit. As we grow, say Feldenkrais teachers, our bodies settle into habitual patterns—the way we sit, stand, walk, work at a computer, or jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana—movements so common we're no longer aware of how we do them, or of having other choices. Often, these habitual movements aren't optimal for us. They can lead to pain, or, at the very least, an inability to reach our full potential. Feldenkrais training offers a way to rearrange our body awareness down to the deepest neurological level. This enables us to make a wider range of movement choices, because the body is shown possibilities that were previously hidden.